Immigration Policy and the Manipulation of Migrant Communities for Labor in North America

One of the prerequisites of wage labour and one of the historic conditions for capital is free labour and the exchange of free labour against money, in order to reproduce money and to convert it into values, in order to be consumed by money, not as use value for enjoyment, but as value for money. Another prerequisite is the separation of free labour from the objective conditions of its realization—from the means and material of labour. This means above all that the worker must be separated from the land, which functions as his natural laboratory. This means the dissolution both of free petty landownership and of communal landed property…(Marx 2007 [1965], pg. 67)

The euphemism of “Free” labor, I think is a misnomer. Particularly when this is put in the context of the foreign policy whose purpose is only to destabilize and displace those communities whose labor is self-sufficient in non-capitalist economies to make them “free labor”. For the greater part of the long 20th century, U.S. foreign policy has been almost exclusively tied to destabilizing and displacing communities that are self-sufficient so that they are free to sell their labor and migrate to capitalist nations in order to survive. At the very least, this process functions to make sure that the communities, usually indigenous, move off their ancestral land in order for corporate friendly national or international operations to pursue primitive accumulation through natural resource extraction or to support the infrastructure of that extraction.

In the epigraph above written in the 19th century, Karl Marx demonstrated that he understood the relationship between displacement and “free labor” and how they were both necessary in order for Capitalism to function. This essay is a reflection on how U.S. immigration policy has functioned simultaneously to manipulate and produce new communities of international workers once their labor has been “liberated” from self-sustaining non-capitalist economies through purposeful foreign policy that is discussed in other essays published earlier on Káraní and El Enemigo Común.

In the field of Anthropology, scholars have labeled these communities of immigrants and new proletarian workers “labor pools” for the industries that they help perpetuate. The manipulation of these “labor pools,” particularly in agriculture has been a topic of study since the early 20th century (Fisher 1953; Galarza 1964; Menchaca 1995). This manipulation by nation states of international indigenous communities in the service of capitalist industry was previously understood as the “formalization” and “informalization” of these “labor pools.” We translate this as the formal contracting (between nation states) and informal contracting (between capitalist industry and brown managers) of the wage labor of displaced migrant and immigrant communities who are actively resisting the destruction of their communities and ways of life through the imposition of capitalism (Mitropoulos 2006).

As students of capitalism, specifically as it relates to our people’s continued exploitation by the illegitimate capitalist settler society known internationally as the United States of America. The lessons learned of the limits of industrial agriculture to reach the levels of capitalist industry helps us to understand more precisely what has been described recently by Noam Chomsky as “Socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor” and the ungovernability of the agricultural working class over the long 20th century (Polycroniu 2016).

In fact, the continued uprisings over the long 20th century of every single farmworker class artificially created by U.S. immigration policy has required for the state to become heavily invested in forever producing new labor forces and to continue providing grower entitlements beyond times of economic crisis and times of war. This abuse of state resources has allowed for industrial agriculture to continue making record profits despite it’s own limits to do so without the “socialism for the rich” that Chomsky points out. Henry A. Wallace, who was the Secretary of Agriculture from 1933-1940, designed these corporate entitlements and incentives to help United States family farms survive the economic crisis of the great depression. Industrial farmers have abused this safeguard outside of that context to shape the face of global export agriculture to create the unsustainable paradox that we currently find ourselves in, large-scale industrial growers making record profits at great costs to labor, land and the U.S. taxpayer.

In a nutshell, Wallace began a program where the United States government would pay large industrial farms incentives not to produce certain crops in order to artificially drive the market prices up. This type of manipulation was not new, in the late 19th century the U.S. Department of Agriculture began to greatly invest in research and development in the agricultural sector in regards to advancing their mission to “provide American farmers with seeds and plants for the creation of new markets” (Alvarez 2007: 28). Alvarez describes the health and safety regimes imposed since the turn of the 20th century to insure that “new hybrids that were developed in this country [U.S.A] became staples in regional and national markets and ultimately engendered a transformation in global agriculture” (Ibid).

Even with this head start, the most impactful incentive that industrial agriculturalist received was only to be implemented under the special circumstances of a time of war and was only permitted through the heavy lobbying of the industrial growers in California when the United States entered World War II (Galarza 1964; Gamboa 1991; Menchaca 1995). The New Deal that industrial growers received in the aftermath of the great depression was only a precursor of that “Socialism for the rich” that Noam Chomsky describes in his interview.

The U.S. Labor Pool was informalized in 1964 after the World War II formalization of the labor pool known as the Bracero program helped to break the successful unionization drives advanced by Ernesto Galarza through the National Farm Labor Union by dividing the labor pool between domestic and foreign workers that could be pit against each other. Without this manipulation of labor pools in in agriculture by the state, “the capitalist must either attract and maintain his ‘temporary’ work force by offering high wages or rely on the most desperate and marginal elements of society as in the use of rural migrant labour” (Mann & Dickenson 1978: 477). However, capitalist farmers did not believe that they should be required to take the risk of not being able to control the agricultural labor economy as they expanded production and required more and more labor that would become more and more organized.

Chicana/o historians Ernesto Galarza and Martha Menchaca documented how the Agricultural Lobby in California was very much involved in creating the preconditions for the “socialism for the rich” during WWII through the state-sanctioned manipulation of farm labor pools leading up to the Bracero program (Galarza 1964; Menchaca 1995).

Similarly, Ernesto Galarza, Louie Moreno and Devra Weber all described how the emergence of the Bracero program functioned to disorganize a budding labor unionism in California that was spurred by the Mexican and October Revolutions (Galarza 1964; Moreno 2012; Weber 1996).

It appeared for a moment at the turn of the 20th century that the United States of America scrambled for different sources of labor for industrial agriculture as the exploited ethnic groups became organized and began to hold regular strikes, most of the removal of these communities was facilitated by U.S. Immigration law.



Beginning with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that was renewed indefinitely in 1902 the United States expelled and later barred all immigrants from Asia in 1917.slide05

In 1920, the United States deported 221,168 Mexicans. The United States deported over 2 million Mexicans again in 1929. This expulsion was followed by the Filipino Repatriation Act of 1935 that set the groundwork for the Tydings-McDuffy Act of 1939 that cut Filipino immigration to 50 persons per year.


In the midst of World War II, the Bracero Program was established in 1942.


After two strikes organized by the National Farm Labor Union, the United States conducted Operation Wetback that deported 1,075,168 Mexicans in 1954.


Since then, the 1986 Immigration Control and Reform Act extended Amnesty to farmworkers through the Seasonal Agricultural Workers program and established the H-2A visa as a method for industrial growers to gain large numbers of foreign labor in times of emergency.slide13

Beginning in 2001, the U.S. began a process of formalizing the labor market, but began to do so piece-meal, beginning with the closure of the U.S. Mexican Border and later the detention and deportation of over 2 million immigrants. In the first part of the 21st century you can see that immigration policy was contested in the United States, in particular after the largest General Strike in United States History occurred in 2006, leading lawmakers to rally around a Comprehensive Immigration Reform plan that would have greatly benefitted corporate interests, many of the same figures mentioned as having rising stock prices in the recent El Enemigo Común article that analyzes the results of the U.S. presidential election (Simón & Salvage 2016).


Presently, and because of this manipulation of these labor pools, Mexican immigrants constitute the main foreign agricultural labor force in the United States (Griffith and Kissam 1995; Krissman 1996; J.V. Palerm 1991; and J.V. Palerm and Urquiola 1993). Over the last century, U.S. agricultural firms have come to depend upon Mexican labor power to cultivate, harvest and package their crops. The continued formalization and informalization of that labor market over the long 20th century has been used to artificially “stabilize” the labor pools, assuring a renewed stream of exploitable laborers for industrial growers as the former group develop the ability to defend themselves from exploitation. Farm labor unions, emerged and were continuously broken through the formalization and informalization of the Farm Labor markets over the long 20th century, this occurred primarily via immigration laws that would routinely expatriate organized labor on the basis of race and ethnicity, including specific rulings for Chinese, Sikh, Japanese, Filipinos, different types of Mexicans and more recently Karen and Somali refugees.

Industrial Agriculture on the U.S. West Coast

What leads to the necessity of large numbers of farm laborers for harvest? This question was addressed in the early part of the 20th century by Paul Taylor and Tom Vasey who claim that,

The intensification of agriculture accounts not only for the large percentage of farm laborers in California; it is responsible, also, for the long line of immigrant nationalities which have played so large a role in the agriculture of the state (Ibid, 289).

By intensification, Taylor and Vassey are referring to the industrialization of the agricultural process through attempts to create factories in the fields. Above, Taylor and Vassey frame the need for an industrial class of workers as a benign result of intensification of agriculture to the level of industry. Juan Vicente Palerm complicates this further by drawing on Varden Fuller who, “blames the ubiquitous supply of Chinese unemployed workers, recently dismissed from gold mining and railroad construction jobs, as the enabler of latifundia” (J.V. Palermo 2014: 61). Fuller suggests instead that a Chinese labor pool was already in existence when latifundias (large scale farms) came to dominate California. J.V. Palerm argues that regardless of which came first, that “a noxious cycle was inevitably set in motion once latifundia farming was set in motion” (J.V. Palerm, 2014, 61). A cycle where different ethnicities experienced the harshness of industrial farming and were removed and replaced as soon as they rebelled.

Lloyd Fisher argues that there is considerable evidence that the volume and character of the supply of agricultural labor-power in California was a major driving force for the further intensification of capitalist agriculture (Fisher 1953: 4). Even so, California could not escape the limits of capitalist agriculture that Karl Kautsky enumerated, in particular when it came to labor, as worker struggles in California’s agricultural belt generated, “conflicts which are at times of violent intensity”(Taylor and Vasey 1936: 295). The “bloody shirt” that Carey McWilliams alludes to in his book As We Sow (1949) refers to the violent expulsion of the Chinese is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the violence experienced in the fields of California as a class struggle continues even to this day between agricultural workers and their employers during periods of capitalist crises (McWilliams 1949: 183).

Historians Devra Weber and Cletus Daniel document the violence of the growers against such strikes that occurred after the Mexican revolution in California (Weber 1973, 1994; Daniel 1981). In California, Chinese labor was replaced by Japanese and Mexican labor, which was made to compete with Indian, and Filipino labor until the great depression caused a change in immigration laws (Majka and Majka 1982; Palerm 2014). The dawning of World War II was when Mexican labor overtook Japanese labor, as the Japanese were then made prisoners of war confined to concentration camps, as the Bracero program formalized U.S. reliance on Mexican labor to meet the needs of agroindustry.

This ‘noxious’ history led California’s capitalist agriculture to become one of the most lucrative economies that was emulated as we will see in places like Washington state and now Canada. The creative measures that California agroindustry took in order to try to “stabilize” a regular reproducible workforce was not too different from the approach that French historian Claude Meillassoux documented in South Africa, Rhodesia and Europe, which included the creation of a double labor market along with direct and indirect wages, the rotation of the rural labor force (by periodic expulsion), and discriminatory ideology to violently keep people in their place (Meillassoux, 1975, 121).

The Harvest Labor Market

Lloyd H. Fisher argues that the structuring of what he identified as the “Harvest Labor Market” was central to California agricultural capitalist planning and labor policy as an attempt to stabilize the workforce. The ‘stability’ of the “Harvest Labor Market” is a major concern for California growers because highly profitable perishable labor-intensive crops, at times of harvest, could not be handled by local labor alone due to the perishable nature of the crops and weather fluctuations that required a massive seasonal labor market (Fisher 1953: 2-3). Stability here refers to a harvest labor market that is readily available, massive and will not complain about the wages they are offered in exchange for bringing in the harvest. Fisher notes that, “California farmers have had an apparently insatiable demand for harvest labor” (Ibid, 9). He further noted in the mid 20th century that, “so long as the cost of recruiting additional labor remains negligible and the cost of unemployment is borne by the community, and so long as the piece rate system prevails” growers had no qualms about demanding more and more labor (Ibid, 11).

As a result of this demand for labor, Fisher describes the rise of farm labor contracting of harvest labor as an integral part of the development of capitalist agriculture in California (Ibid, 20). From the Chinese to the Japanese to the Mexican to the Filipino, contract labor has been a crucial part of the organization of both the contracted agricultural workers and the farms themselves. Fisher makes the case that it was at this level of organization that most negotiations and clashes based upon the value of that labor occurred. Even so, Fisher asserts that “labor contracting is not uniquely an institution of the agricultural labor market nor is agricultural labor contracting exclusively a California practice” (Ibid, 42). Considering that it has existed in other capitalist industries such as the production of textiles and the building of railroads, Fisher goes on to describe just how involved a labor contractor is in the recruitment, control, management and organization of labor, which Fisher argues makes the organization of labor contracting the ideal role for union organization towards battling the type of price-fixing engaged by the employer and the government in the interest of capitalist production.


The Bracero Program

The Bracero program during World War II is an example of one such formalization of the agricultural labor market between the United States and Mexico. From 1942 to 1964, an army of Mexican braceros, composed primarily of campesinos from southern Mexico, worked in the United States, the overwhelming majority in agriculture (Galarza 1964; Gamboa 1993; Gonzalez 2006). According to Galarza, “California regularly used a large share of all the Mexican nationals transported to the United States – more than half of the 119,000 men hired up to the end of 1944” (Galarza 1964: 53).

Galarza continues to demonstrate that it was through the legalization of the Bracero program that a dual labor market emerged placing into competition legally contracted braceros and what Galarza refers to as “Wetback” labor (Ibid, 56). Considered a free worker, the “Wetback”, was indeed a peasant-proletarian who was subject to the worst jobs, lower wages, job insecurity, and the victim of discriminatory ideologies and policies. This dual labor market made it easy for employers to deny any involvement in encouraging the hiring of “Wetback” labor, and exert a tremendous amount of control over the labor force.

According to Galarza, “the result was the mixed crew, in which Wetbacks and braceros worked side by side for the same employer” (Ibid, 64). State interventions and prohibitions attempted to curb the use of “illegal” labor, yet they were not enough to eliminate mixed crews, which helped to drive down wages and maintain poor working conditions. The Mexican government’s negotiations to bring an end to the dual labor market, standardize working conditions and raise wages for braceros were met with the unilateral recruitment of Mexican labor at the border by the U.S. Department of Labor in 1954 (Ibid, 69). This incident led to the revision of Public Law 78 to make it clear, “to Mexico that its failure to accept agreements on the terms offered by the Department of Labor on behalf of American growers still left the United States with the option of unilateral border hiring” (Ibid).

The ability of growers to depend on the Department of Labor to force Mexico meet their demands and conditions for labor allowed growers to ease off their dependence upon the labor black market. Massive strikes in 1951 and 1952, organized by the National Farm Labor Union set the stage for the purging of “illegals” or “Wetbacks” by the Department of Justice in 1954 via Operation Wetback based upon discriminatory ethnic and xenophobic ideologies.


Public Law 78 was signed into law in 1951. It represented the formalization of the harvest labor market via administered migration complete with pre-determined wages, working conditions, and instruments of social control. Some of the conditions included,

that the Mexican worker was to be provided with adequate lodgings, occupational insurance, non-occupational accident and health protection, transportation and meals. Deductions which might be made from wages were enumerated. The work guarantee and contract duration were defined in greater detail. The twenty-five articles of the contract supplemented some of the provisions of the agreement, such as those referring to discrimination and wages (Ibid, 74-75).

The amount of social control over the bracero during their contracted time was tremendous, from the moment that the worker was recruited braceros were subjected to interviews, physical exams, finger printing, delousing and mass transportation, usually in trains (Ibid, 82). Upon arrival to their employment destination, braceros were restricted to that geographic location by their identification card, and at the end of the contract, when they were no longer needed, the worker was repatriated and returned to their domestic household non-capitalist economy in Mexico (Ibid, 83).

Martha Menchaca (1995) emphasizes that braceros in California “(1) depressed the wages of the American farm workers, (2) obstructed the formation of farm worker unions, and (3) encouraged American businessmen to lobby for the extension of the bracero program to industry as well (Craig 1971; Galarza 1964)” (Menchaca, 1995, 94). In many ways PL 78 reinforced a pre-existing culture of migration from rural Mexican campesino households and Mexico’s urban centers (where the bracero recruitment centers were established) and U.S. agricultural firms in California came to prefer Mexican labor (Palerm and Urquiola, 1993).

With the official termination of P.L. 78 in 1964, many of these workers easily made the shift to migration mitigated by farm labor contractors and growers as opposed to the governments of Mexico and the United States. The formalization of the labor market via the bracero program in many ways accelerated the flow of Mexican-origin migrant and immigrant workers. The growers preference and demand for Mexican labor created what Juan Vicente Palerm and José Ignacio Urquiola identified in California as a bi-national system of agricultural production where California growers made a tremendous profit by relying on informal social networks and debt for recruitment of new labor from Mexico (Palerm and Urquiola, 1993; Krissman, 2002).

The period of mechanization in capitalist agriculture in the U.S. immediately after the bracero program ended, and neo-colonial development projects “The Green Revolution” in Mexico, did not stem the demand for labor in the United States, but rather fed it a more and more people came to be displaced (Kearney 1996; Palerm 2014). In many ways, this renewed primitive accumulation in Mexico greatly influenced the devaluation of the Mexican peso as it entered the worldwide capitalist energy crisis, a crisis caused by the neo-colonial wars waged by the United States in Latin America and Southeast Asia (Cleaver 1977).

As Meillassoux (1975) correctly observed, these neo-colonial wars had the effect of expanding the available labor market, making the accumulation of capital based the labor of denigrated Mexican peasant-workers employed in high-value, labor intensive specialty crops more profitable than mechanized field crops, creating simultaneously an increase in the demand for farm labor. In meeting this demand for farm labor, Mexican-origin migrant and immigrant workers created what was identified as enclaves of ‘peasant-worker’ communities within the borders of the United States, reshaping the demographics of entire rural populations in California since 1964 (Palerm 1997 & 1991; Palerm and Urquiola 1993; Griffith and Kissam 1995; Commission on Agricultural Workers 1993; and Garcia 1995).

The election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America marks another moment in history where labor unions and worker rights are under threat as exemplified by Trump Organization practices recently settled in order to avoid closer examination (Pace and Furlow 2016; Scheiber 2016). Trump’s request for foreign H-2A workers to work his vineyard in Charlottesville was called out as but another conflict of interest, but taken as a business practice of what is yet to come there is far more at stake (Sullivan 2016). In 2010, Republican lawmaker’s already sought to change the immigration laws to expand the guest worker programs into other industries in reaction to the massive immigrant rights demonstrations of 2006 (Democracy Now 2006; American Immigration Council 2010). In the mainstream media, the failed Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) bill was presented as being a result of 2006 immigrant rights marches, however the Dignity Campaign as described by David Bacon demonstrated that CIR was anything but a dignified path towards citizenship and not what the 2006 immigrant rights marches had sought (Bacon 2013). Comprehensive Immigration Reform was not a positive result of the 2006 immigrant uprisings, rather it was a conservative backlash against it. Placed in the context of the long 20th century we begin to see how the lack of creativity of neoliberal capitalism produces over an over again the same solutions. What’s new, is that the matter is no longer between two nation states, the U.S. and Mexico, but rather it is multi-national and hemispheric.

Recent immigration policy changes by the Trudeau Administration in Canada to lift visa restrictions for Mexican citizens announced in June 2016 and implemented on December 1, 2016 mark an informalization of the Mexican labor pool in Canada which before December 1 had been highly regulated and lauded as far back as 2013 as a possible model for the United States (Mas 2016; Khan 2013). Further announcements by the Trudeau cabinet of approving two new pipelines in late 2016 brings further meaning to the informalization of the Mexican labor pools in Canada (Tasker 2016).

In the United States as in Canada, the predominant mode of administering this vast migrant network and the labor pooled in farm worker settlements for the Harvest Labor Market has been via the informal organization of Farm Labor Contractors who have become an extension of capitalist farm management yet primarily originate from the same stock as the farm workers.

Farm Labor Contracting

It is in the re-emergence of Farm Labor Contracting that the problem of browning of the managerial class makes its entre in regards to the development of capitalist agriculture.[1] Tejano migrants such as Julian Ruiz of Oregon, joined the ranks of labor contractors and foremen in charge of other Tejanos migrant workers and Mexican-origin undocumented migrant workers (Maldonado, 2005).

Dawn D. Thilmany and Fred Krissman have found that farm labor contracting continues to be the strategy of choice for corporate agricultural firms on the West Coast of the United States and that the use of undocumented labor, vertical integration, and the manipulation of wages, housing and other benefits factor into securing a fluctuating labor market (Krissman, 2002; Thilmany, 2001).

The demand for year round labor in the production of specialty crops along with the move towards more managerial control of the labor force combined with the resettlement of agricultural workers that the company town emerges as a strategy of capitalist development in agriculture.

The Company Town System

Jose M. Alamillo’s historical analysis of the citrus industry in Corona, California found that the vertical integration of the lemon industry and the intensification of production of a crop that needed year round attention, increased the demand for farm labor beyond the harvest season.

The citrus industry’s unique year round demand for labor allowed for the potential of this industry to fully integrate its work force as proletarianized laborers. To this end, the industry established the company town system of labor organization in an attempt to maintain sole access and fuller capitalist control over a captive labor pool. Backed by the discriminatory ideology of paternalism, California farmers concern for their worker’s “living environment” drove them to build traditional company towns.

The historical context for this solution to the demand for labor was to be found in industry, “employers throughout the industrial world sought to use paternalist strategies to build worker loyalty and blunt labor unionism…[offering] permanent workers regardless of skill an array of welfare benefits that ranged from housing, recreation, medical care, elementary schools, and company store credit” (Alamillo 2006: 25).

Alamillo based his analysis of the company town in Corona on his own experience growing up in the Limoneira ranch in Santa Paula, California. He described the Limoneira company town as including the following, “The families on the ranch lived in company-owned houses, bought their groceries on credit from the company store, used company-built recreational facilities, and answered to a ranch supervisor who policed the groves and the resident workforce”(Ibid, 1). Martha Menchaca (1995) studied the development of the community of Santa Paula more in depth and found that the strike breaking strategy of Limoneira was, “if they offered optimal working conditions, their farm workers would not be interested in forming a union” (Menchaca 1995: 95).

In order to understand the amount of capitalist planning required in the establishment of a company town, let us look more closely at the example of the Limoneira Citrus ranch in Santa Paula, CA. According to J.B. Culbertson, a manager of the Limoneira Citrus Ranch, “ ‘the citrus grower has a different problem’ than other farm owners. He continued, ‘his harvest season is almost continuous the year through and his other labor needs fit into the picking cycle to make possible steady, annual employment for much of his help.’” (Quoted in Garcia 2001: 36).

Garcia argued that the rigid segregation and labor segmentation of farm workers settled in citrus towns was not enough of a solution “to the persistent ‘labor problem’ of finding a tractable and dependable source of workers,” because the actualization of discriminatory ideologies into formal segregation required constant maintenance (Ibid, 53). As a solution to this problem of control in labor sending towns, “Some citrus ranches, such as the Limoneira Ranch in Santa Paula, successfully maintained structural inequalities by constructing a traditional company town” (Ibid).

Traditional company towns allowed growers to maintain their workforce as they saw fit. This allowed for growers to reward their workforce by providing housing as an incentive and thereby maintaining a hegemonic control over the workforce, and when workers rebelled, it provided a means of quickly squashing worker struggles via the reintroduction of both job insecurity and homelessness.

Charles C. Teague, the owner of the Limoneira Citrus Company, for example, “lobbied the Mexican consulate and U.S. government officials to exempt his Mexican employees from the repatriation and deportation drives in the 1930s” (Ibid, 108). The company town in this sense allowed the grower to advocate on behalf of a specific set of workers under his “authority”. However, Teague’s response was much different when it came to the 1941 Lemon Strike in Santa Paula,

Pickers and packers, organized as the AFL-affiliated Agricultural and Citrus Workers Union, Local 22342, confronted their employer and CFGE president Charles C. Teague to demand a modest increase in pay at the Ventura County Limoneira Company after a decade of low and static wages. Teague responded by evicting nearly 700 Mexican employees from the company-owned homes, replacing them with Okies and Arkies from the Central Valley (Ibid, 159).

In California, growers like Teague, were quick to abandon the company town system, which included farm worker families at the formalization of the farm labor market that brought unaccompanied men via the bracero program during World War II, only to pick it up again after the bracero program was terminated or draw their labor from pre-existing colonias, Mexican labor village settlements as documented by Gonzalez in the Citrus industry of Southern California (Gonzalez 1994: 2; Moreno 2012).

Company towns are not always sustainable in maintaining control over the workforce; Martha Menchaca argues that for Limoniera, “the growers were wrong” (Menchaca 1995: 95). In fact, Henry Ford’s attempt to export the company town model to Brazil for the extraction of rubber for automobile manufacturing was a complete failure, “the first years of the settlement were plagued by waste, violence and vice”(Grandin 2009: 10). Regardless that Ford established an incentive wage of five dollars for an eight-hour day as an indirect way of gaining capitalist control over workers, it was not enough of an incentive for rubber workers in Brazil (Ibid, 38).

More direct forms of gaining control were also implemented, “fear was a second tactic, needed to forestall the discontent that such system inevitably generated” (Ibid, 69-70). The use of physical violence and surveillance and debt as used in the United States to keep workers in line in was exported to Brazil, however, with nothing to buy, Ford’s model had a difficult time recruiting, keeping and managing enough labor because most of the Brazilians who could live without wages resisted the Ford model of organization because the articulated workers preferred seasonal labor to integrated full time labor (Ibid, 150-1). This resulted in a 300 percent turnover rate (Ibid, 157).

Prohibition was another method of moral control imposed on the workers in Brazil that was also circumvented (Ibid, 159). The hospital built for Fordlandia, that initially promised free medical care was overwhelmed with patients (Ibid, 160). The plantation was plagued by death from sicknesses like Malaria and yellow fever. Worker struggles also continued throughout its existence,

The strikes, knife fights, and riots that marked Fordlandia’s first two years had subsided, and for all of 1930 there were no major incidents. Rogge decided that the detachment of armed soldiers that had been stationed at the camp since the 1928 riot was no longer needed (Ibid, 227).

Just as the overseers at Fordlandia let their guard down, the December 1930 riot left the plantation in ruins, workers having destroyed all the means of production including the time clocks.

The result was even more complex organization and the implementation of evermore drastic forms of social control by an army of American managers on behalf of Ford, and direct military intervention on behalf of the Brazilian government. Ford’s failure to secure an integrated labor force in Brazil via the company town organization of the production of rubber demonstrates the shortcomings of attempting to establish a universal; one size fits all solution to the limits capitalist agriculture.

This failure also demonstrates the tenacity of farm worker autonomy to maintain self-sustainability over a dependence upon a wage as well as the centrality of management as a way of maintaining capitalist control. It also demonstrates, as Michael Kearney (1996) warned of the rise of transnational agricultural corporations such as “Driscoll, Andrew and Williamson, and Monsanto” (Zlolniski 2015: 1) that were,

not as concerned with ownership of land as domestic capitalist farmers are. Rather, a tendency of agro industrialization seems to be a shift away from ownership of land as a means of control of production to control of other aspects of production, especially finance and technical expertise—including patents of genetically altered cultigens (Kearney 1996: 128).

Marcos F. Lopez (2011) also found that in Mexico and the United States these modes of production led to the continued exploitation of farmworkers first by the growers and later like in Brazil by the state (Zlolniski 2015). Dawn Paley also offered the development in Columbia at the beginning of the 21st century of multinational agricultural corporations like Chiquita brands “paying off illegal armed groups” in order to displace small land holders in order to plant African Palm for fuel (Paley 2014: 66).

This use of violence and brutality in the fields to discipline farm workers was not limited to third world. As Jarosz and Qazi (2000) put it, this reality created in the United States “Third World working conditions in one of the richest and most technologically sophisticated agricultural regions in the nation”(Jarosz and Qazi 2000: 2). As of December 1, 2016 Canada lifted its visa requirements to Mexican nationals.

If history is a correct forecast of the future, this informalization of the labor pool in Canada marks a shift in neoliberal capitalism in anticipation of a coming formalization of the migrant labor economy in the United States whose infrastructure we first laid eyes on during the proposed comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill of 2010. This CIR bill proposed to tighten borders, increase deportation, and to expand visa programs into other industries beyond Agriculture (H-2a) and Technology (H-2b) and for no crisis to be necessary for their use by industry.

In the context of the analysis advanced by Alternative Media Outlet El Enemigo Común on November 16, 2016,

Neoliberalism has always been racist and fascist, but also classist, misogynist, hetero-patriarchal, capitalist, and imperialist. Under Trump the only difference is that the racism and sexism is more shameless and legitimized, with serious effects on women and people of color, but above all, women of color. (Simón & Salvage 2016)

The election of Donald Trump rather than announcing the end of Neo-liberal Capitalism marks the beginning of a new stage of Neo-Liberal Capitalism, perhaps the last and final one. For that to happen, we are going to have to fight.


[1] The idea of the “browning of the managerial class” comes from Ateneos that we held at UC Santa Barbara in 2009 under the leadership of Manuel Callahan, Ph.D. who used the term to describe trends of people of color becoming managers of other people of color, much in the same way that caciques once functioned in the hacienda system. The analysis is fleshed out in this work based on Karl Marx (1867) discussion of the dual role of managers as members of the working class and as a buffer for the Capitalists.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s